Falling in Mo-Town
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L
88
97
New York @
88 - 97
Record: 21-33
Kurt Thomas had 15 points and 17 boards (AP Photo)
Kurt Thomas had 15 points and 17 boards (AP Photo)
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) -- The Detroit Pistons are thrilled that few experts, if any, believe they'll repeat as NBA champions.

Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince each scored 19 points to help the Pistons beat New York 97-88 on Tuesday night for their fifth straight victory and 10th in 11 games.

"There's no pressure on us," said Rasheed Wallace, who had 12 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. "Most of the sports shows, outside of Michigan, they've got somebody else winning. It's funny, though. We'll see.

"When it comes down to it, we'll smack 'em in the mouth with the trophy again."

Since the Pistons fell to .500 on Dec. 22, they are 21-7 and have surged 2 1/2 games ahead of Cleveland in the Central Division.

"It's like a heavyweight fight. In the beginning, that's when we were sluggish," Wallace said. "As you get later in the fight, like later in season, the cream is going to rise to the top."

Why does he think Detroit is overlooked when analysts look toward the playoffs, which start in two months?

"We don't have stars. We play with a team concept," Wallace said. "In the NBA, they want stars and a more individual game."

Jamal Crawford had 23 points for the Knicks, who fell to 5-20 in 2005.

"Right now, we're just not that good," said Stephon Marbury, who was held to 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting.

The Pistons were in command throughout and pulled away with a 13-5 run to open the second half, giving them a 64-47 lead.

Antonio McDyess scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to give the Pistons another 17-point lead, and they coasted the rest of the way to extend their home winning streak to a season-best seven games.

"We have to start games the right way," said New York's Tim Thomas, who scored 15 points. "The Pistons were in control from the opening tip. We can't do that, especially on the road."

Detroit's Chauncey Billups scored 15 points and had eight assists, Carlos Arroyo had 13 points and McDyess added nine points and eight rebounds.

Kurt Thomas had 15 points and 17 rebounds for the Knicks and reserve Trevor Ariza scored 14.

"They got all the calls," said Tim Thomas, who had five fouls. "(The refs) took me out of the rhythm of the game. It's frustrating when calls aren't going your way."

The flu kept Larry Brown from coaching the Pistons.

Assistant coach Gar Heard filled in for Brown as he did after Brown had hip surgery in November. Brown became ill in the Bahamas during the All-Star break. He was at the arena Tuesday night, but said it would be a game-time decision whether he would stay.

A sequence early in the third quarter was the latest example of how the defending champions are starting to play like they did last season.

After Prince scored on an alley-oop dunk off a pass from Billups, the Pistons blocked two shots on the ensuing possession, the second one leading to Billups' fast-break layup.

"Those were a couple plays that got a lot of life in the building, and life in us," Billups said.

Billups enjoys hearing other teams mentioned as favorites to win the title.

"I love being under the radar, just like it was last year," he said. "We feel like we're the best team out there."

Notes:
Detroit swept the season series against the Knicks for the first time since 1989-90 and third time in franchise history. ... The Pistons will play their next six games on the road, while New York will play seven of its next eight at home. ... Detroit rookie Carlos Delfino (right knee) practiced Monday for the first time in two months. He's expected to play on the road trip.

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